Chile News & Current Events

Updated January 10, 2023 | Infoplease Staff

News and Current Events

Get caught up with the most important historic and current events in Chile.

Socialists Return to Power

Ricardo Lagos became president in March 2000, the first Socialist to run the country since Allende. Chile's economic growth slowed to 3% for 2001, partly the result of a drop in international copper prices and the economic turmoil in neighboring Argentina. In 2003, there were several minor financial scandals involving insider information and bribery. In response, Lagos introduced new reforms promising greater transparency. In 2004, Chile passed a law permitting divorce for the first time.

In 2006 presidential elections, Socialist Michelle Bachelet won 53% of the vote. The former pediatrician is a survivor of the Pinochet dictatorship, which was responsible for her father's death and subjected her to prison, torture, and exile. Bachelet took office on March 11, becoming Chile's first female chief of state. She promised to continue Chile's successful economic policies while increasing social spending. The president's first major challenge came when 700,000 of the nation's students organized a national boycott in May demanding educational reform. The students called off the strike in June after the government agreed to address their concerns.

In January 2008, president Bachelet swore in six new ministers to her 22-member cabinet. The major change was the appointment of Christian Democrat leader Edmundo Perez Yoma for Interior Minister, the top political post of the cabinet. Bachelet also replaced ministers of economy, public works, mining, agriculture, and planning. The cabinet changes are not expected to affect government policy.

Earthquake Devastates Beginning of Right-Wing Rule

In January 2010, for the first time in 50 years—since the rule of Pinochet—Chile elected a right-wing president. Billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera narrowly defeated Eduardo Frei of the Concertacion, the center-left alliance that has been in power for 20 years, in the second round of voting. Piñera, who was elected to the Senate in 1990, owns a television station, a soccer club, and a large stake in the country's main airline, Lan Chile. He lost to outgoing Bachelet in the 2006 election, his first run for the presidency. Piñera said he would use his business acumen to create jobs give private industry a more prominent role in the economy. He has distanced himself from the Pinochet regime, and his cabinet is made up of a group of technocrats with no ties to Pinochet.

Chile was hit by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in February 2010. Fatalities were relatively low, with some 500 people killed in the devastation. However, as many as 1.5 million people were displaced. The country, long known to be at high risk for earthquakes, has enforced strict building codes in urban areas, which helped to limit the amount of damage in these areas. But buildings and homes in poorer areas—many built with adobe—did not fare as well. Chile's electricity grids, communication, and transportation systems were badly damaged, severely hampering rescue and aid efforts. The epicenter of the quake was 70 miles northeast of Concepcion in central Chile. Massive waves caused additional damage along the coast.

In March 2010, Sebastián Piñera was sworn in as President of Chile, immediately following three major aftershocks from the recent massive earthquake. Piñera is the first right-wing president since Pinochet. He made an effort to distance himself from the former dictator, and he assembled a cabinet of technocrats with no ties to Pinochet. He faced the widespread devastation of his country following the February earthquake, visiting the quake zone directly after his inauguration. One of his first acts as the new president was to form an emergency response team to deal with the country's reconstruction in the aftermath of the disaster.

Fate of Trapped Miners Rivets the Nation

On Aug. 5, 2010, a tunnel collapsed at the San José mine, trapping 33 miners 2,000 feet below ground. Remarkably all of the miners survived. Rescuers drilled a small borehole to provide the miners with food, lights, and liquids and to allow them to send notes to and from family members as they wait to be rescued. The miners have become national heroes throughout Chile. They were rescued in mid-October, weeks earlier than planned, lifted to safety one by one in a rescue capsule. Each of the miners emerged jubilant and in overall good health considering the ordeal.

Plan for Hydroelectric Dams Causes Outrage

Immediately following the successful rescue of 33 miners in 2010, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera had an approval rating of 63 percent. By June 2011; however, Piñera had a disapproval rating of 56%, the highest of any Chilean president since democracy returned to the country in 1990. The main reason for the approval rating nosedive was Piñera's support for the Hidroaysén electricity project, a plan to build five dams on two rivers and flood over 14,000 acres of nature reserves in the Patagonia region.

A government environmental commission approved the $3.2 billion Hidroaysén project in May 2011, prompting a country-wide protest movement. The protests caused injuries to 28 police officers and over one hundred thousand dollars in property damage. One protest in early June involved 30,000 demonstrators marching to the presidential palace, with some protestors throwing stones and pieces of wood at police vehicles. The police fired back with water cannons. Since the commission's decision, the focus has turned to the yet-to-be-approved transmission line for the project. Patagonia, considered by Chileans to be a national treasure with its breathtaking glaciers and lakes, attracts thousands of tourists each year.

Chilean Youth Call for Reform

Throughout 2011, partly inspired by the Arab Spring, activists continued to protest and started a movement which came to be known as the Chilean Winter. On August 4, 2011, some protestors set up barricades around Santiago, the nation's capital, while others banged on pots and pans. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of high school and college students. About 900 demonstrators were arrested. Also in August, nearly three dozen university and high school students went on a hunger strike to show their disapproval of President Piñera's government. These education protests have taken over several schools, forcing some to stop classes. Students organized rallies which were attended by 100,000 people. The protestors were demanding a more accessible and affordable university system as well as higher quality and equal funding for elementary and middle schools.

In October 2011, student representatives attempted to negotiate with government representatives led by Felipe Bulnes, the education minister. However, the students withdrew from the negotiations, reporting that Bulnes attacked a student representative, David Urrea. Bulnes reportedly accused Urrea of trying to break up the negotiations. A spokesperson for the government blamed extremists within the student movement for the breakdown of negotiations. Bulnes was replaced by Harald Beyer as education minister two months later.

Although the student protestors did not get all their demands met, they did influence a huge drop in President Piñera's approval rating. As of January 2012, Piñera's approval rating hovered around 26–30%.

Bachelet Regains the Presidency

Michelle Bachelet won a runoff presidential election against Evelyn Matthei on Dec. 15, 2013. Bachelet received 62.2% of the vote, Matthei 37.8%. Bachelet was the first person to be elected for a second term since Arturo Alessandri whose third term ended in 1938.

Bachelet first served as president from 2006 until 2010. She has also served as health minister and defense minister. Bachelet took office on March 11, 2014.

The Constitutional Process Begins Anew

In September 2022, voters rejected a proposed new constitution for Chile. In December 2022, the Chilean Senate approved a bill to start the constituent process anew.

A commission of five senators will install 50 representatives elected by Chilean voters, plus 24 experts appointed by the Chamber of Deputies, on a council tasked with discussing a new constitution.

Source: MSN News

Chile to Open an Embassy in Palestinian Territory

Chilean president Gabriel Boric announced that Chile plans to open an embassy in the Palestinian territories. It would be one of only a few countries to have an embassy in the contested territories.

There is no timeline for opening the embassy. Also, Chilean foreign minister Antonia Urrejola said that Chile will continue to recognize both Palestine and Israel as legitimate states.

Source: Reuters

Chilean Lawmakers Reach an Agreement to Start Work on a New Constitution

On December 12, 2022, Chilean lawmakers announced their intention to draft a new constitution. The new constitution will be drafted by a group of 50 elected constitutional advisors and would replace a dictatorship-era charter.

Once drafted, voters will vote for or against it in November or December of 2023.

It would be submitted for a referendum in November or December of the next year (2024), with mandatory public participation.

The new proposal came after voters rejected a proposed charter that would have been one of the most progressive in the world.

Source: Reuters

Columbia, ELN Rebels, ask Chile to Assist with Peace Negotiations

The government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN), a leftist guerilla group, have agreed to sit down to peace talks, with the hope of ending nearly 60 years of conflict. They have agreed to invite Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Cuba, Norway, and Venezuela to participate.

Colombia will also invite Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain to join and will encourage the United States to appoint a special envoy to the negotiating table. This is to ensure that both sides abide by the agreement.

Source: Reuters

Schools in Chile Voted Among World’s Best

Five schools from Chile, Scotland, Uganda, the Philippines, and the United States will share a quarter-million-dollar prize given by T4 Education.

The prize was given to schools for projects supporting schools and communities. Chile’s winning entry was by Escuela Emilia Lascar in Penaflor, for its program “Emilia TV,” which addressed various issues in the community, including gender identity and mental health.

The T4 organization was founded during the pandemic, with the goal of bringing teachers together from around the world via digital technology.

In a statement, T4 Education founder Vikas Pota said, “Far too many children will continue to be left behind in the wake of COVID unless governments take urgent action to tackle the education crisis... As a first step, they must turn to the knowledge and experience contained within our schools because those on the frontlines of education know better than anyone else the change we need to see."

The prize is called “The World’s Best School Prize.”

Source: US News & World Report

Learn More About Chile

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See also Encyclopedia: Chile.

U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Chile

National Institute of Statistics (INE) (In Spanish only) .